UPDATE (19 FEB 2012): It’s been a year, including a holiday season, since I first put the book on Kindle and six months since the Nook and iTunes versions went live. In that time, I’ve found Nook sales to be very underwhelming, iTunes to be decent, and Amazon to far exceed expectations.
As I write a couple more books, including one using Apple’s new iBooks Author program, some lessons learned include making Nook my lowest priority, that the new iBooks Author program is heaven-sent for formatting and layout (though with the drawback of availability limited to only iPad owners, at least for now), that program updates (i.e. Pages for Mac) have made it easier to save to the .epub format, and that Amazon is currently the utter key to sales success in online publishing. Thanks for your time, please feel free to post your thoughts below.
[ORIGINAL POST] Finally! After eight months of on-again, off-again work, the print version of my ‘Axis of Evil’ travel book is available in versions for Kindle, iTunes/iBook, and Nook. I did the process myself (I’ve done both self and traditionally published books, and the more experience I get, the more I prefer self-publishing), which required time to figure out the various formatting and submission requirements but provided some insights. I’ll highlight my lessons learned, for both readers and writers, below.
Amazon Kindle: Far and away the best – Amazon accepts a variety of formats and the approval process only takes a couple of days. Chances are, the file format you used to write your book is accepted by Amazon, so just set up an account and upload your book(s). This is waaaaaaaay easier and faster than the other services, which make you submit using the relatively new epub format, forcing you to reformat everything prior to upload. This can be especially painful if you used a lot of pictures in your original.
Once uploaded, Amazon will check your work and get it listed on their site in a couple of days. If you already have a print version of your book on Amazon, it will take roughly a week to link the ebook and print book, but this may require an email or two with Amazon customer service to finalize. Once the titles are linked however, anyone trying to purchase your book can easily choose the format and all comments on the books will be combined. As a nice side effect, I noticed offering an ebook caused a bump in sales of the book’s print version, so you may notice a benefit there too.
One of the benefits of online publishing versus print publishing is freely using color pictures anywhere in your work (not crammed into the middle, in black and white, like most print books). Amazon supports this by allowing large files to be uploaded and sold – a stark contrast to Barnes and Noble, which imposed a file size limit that forced me to delete and shrink quite a few photos.
Finally, the book came out looking great on Kindle. The text size adjusts quickly and easily and the photos look just like they do online. I cannot say the same about the next format, Nook.
Barnes and Noble Nook: This is unquestionably the worst of the three. The file size limitation outlined above limits the number of photos (and their size), leaving Nook readers with an inferior experience compared to Kindle and iBook readers.
Unlike Amazon, Barnes and Noble only allows the epub format, which can require a lengthy reformatting of your book, depending on what program you originally used to write it. Once your book is reformatted and uploaded however, the process is nearly as speedy as Amazon’s – way faster than Apple.
Finally, the finished product looks worse on the Nook than the other two. Text doesn’t adjust nearly as easily (I never could get it to adjust on my iPhone, leaving the print so small the book was unreadable), nor do pictures look as clear. As an author, it makes sense to get your book in as many formats as possible, but as a reader, Nook users are getting shortchanged.
Apple iTunes/iBook (yes, the little ‘i’ in front of everything gets annoying): Dealing with Apple as a vendor is a very different experience from dealing with them as a customer. They are slow, bureaucratic, and arrogant. They will take forever, compared to Amazon and Barnes and Noble, to approve your work, then not even tell you when it is approved. The paperwork required to open a vendor account is lengthier and more involved than the other two (especially Amazon, which couldn’t have been more efficient), which adds to the amount of time.
Adding further to the pain is the requirement to use the epub format, like Barnes and Noble. However, since Apple doesn’t have B&N’s file size limitation, you can use as many pictures as with the Kindle – meaning another epub version of the book, with the added pictures. You could use the Nook version, but this leaves your readers without the additional photos found in the Kindle version. So, you’ll end up spending more time creating another epub version of the book for Apple, likely leaving you with three ebooks, once for each publisher.
Once completed however, the Apple version of your book looks great. Text adjusts easily and photos come out looking as they do on the web. The reader experience here is just as good as with the Kindle and well ahead of the Nook.
North Korea’s Future 2.0: No word yet from North Korea on how to load books onto their new ebook reader, the Future 2.0.
How can I convert my book into epub format? Hands down, the easiest way to convert a Word or PDF document into epub is to use Adobe’s digital publishing suite [http://www.adobe.com/products/digitalpublishingsuite/]. However, you need to have Adobe InDesign 5.5 (or later) installed to utilize the service. If you already own InDesign, then it is just a matter of getting signed up and using the service. If you don’t own InDesign, and don’t feel like spending the money to buy it, you can download a 30-day trial version from Adobe’s website. If you work quickly and only have a limited number of titles to convert, a 30-day trial should be more than sufficient.
Aside from Adobe, there are dozens of websites and software applications that purport to reformat from Word or PDF into epub. I tried several and found them nearly useless. This format is changing and advancing quickly however, so hopefully new solutions (e.g. save as epub in Word and Acrobat) will soon emerge.
I hope you have found this brief overview of ebook publishing useful. Please let me know if you have any comments.